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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

How Can Bernie Sanders Stand Out?; Crisis in Venezuela; Trump Jr. Complains About Mueller Probe. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 25, 2019 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:30:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Along with CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett.

So, Laura, let me start with you.

There's no actual evidence in terms of that Trump Tower meeting that Donald Trump Jr. helped set up, there's no actual evidence that a crime was committed there, although it was set up to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.

But the president's former aide Steve Bannon called that meeting treasonous. And it does at the very least suggest a certain willingness to commit conspiracy, although not an actual crime.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, and, remember, the purpose of that meeting wasn't just to try to dig up dirt on Clinton. But it was also about potentially easing sanctions under the Magnitsky Act.

And so it was trying to cajole Trump Jr. into making sure that his father would follow through on that, if elected. Now, as you pointed out, Donald Trump Jr. has not been charged with anything, and he may make it through this entire Russia investigation without being charged with anything.

And that is that -- there's something to say for that. But all of the crimes that you just listed are real crimes. Just ask Manafort and Gates and Papadopoulos and Flynn, who are all going to prison. I would imagine that they would say those are real crimes.

TAPPER: And most of the crimes are things that took place related to this or the investigation, although a lot of Manafort's stuff preceded it, but in terms of the aggregate of the 199.

There's this thing, though, Sara. I have to ask you. We know from the Mueller investigation that Manafort shared internal campaign polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, who Mueller says has ties to Russian military and intelligence.

Where's that going to lead? What does that mean?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: OK, so this is the frustrating thing that allows all of these campaigns aides and family members of Donald Trump to go out there and say, there is no collusion, there is no conspiracy, because we see the prosecutors and even the judge in this Manafort case saying that Paul Manafort's interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik are central to this investigation, that it could be important that he shared this data.

But we don't know if we're ever going to see how these pieces link together. We don't know if we're ever going to see that part of the Mueller report. We don't know, because of how heavily redacted these court filings have been, if we're ever going to get a sense of why Manafort's interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, including during the campaign, including sharing that polling data, are central to the investigation.

We also know there's another ongoing investigation that's completely secret. We don't know if that's going to lead to charges. We don't know if we're ever going to know anything about that. So there's this whole idea that this is central to an investigation and we may never know the answer to what that investigation is or where it leads.

TAPPER: And, Laura, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, who chairs the Intelligence Committee now in the House, he's threatening a subpoena to get Mueller's report, although, earlier today, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said he doesn't seem to think it's going to get that far. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think Attorney General Barr is going to make the right decision. We can trust him to do that. He has a lot of experience with this, but I think we can -- we can count on him to do the right thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: But even if Mueller drops the report next week, as we think might happen, this is going to be a big controversy until that full report goes to Congress.

JARRETT: Absolutely.

And I think the tension that you see from Rosenstein there is trying to highlight the fact that everyone is demanding transparency, certainly Democrats on Capitol Hill, with the fact that there's longstanding Justice Department policy that you do not talk about individuals who haven't been charged.

And so what do you do with the report that may discuss people who Mueller declined to prosecute? He's supposed to discuss that under the regs. And so how do you expose that to the public in a way that still protects them? That's what Rosenstein was trying to get it.

But at the same time, as Democrats have pointed out, there was plenty of information that has been turned over to Capitol Hill about the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. She obviously wasn't charged. All of that got forked over, in addition to other highly sensitive material about the Russia investigation, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on Carter Page.

There's mountains of that type of evidence that Democrats like Schiff are saying, wait a minute, you turned it over then. How are you going to withhold it now?

TAPPER: Yes, under the Trump administration demanded by Republicans.

And then there is, of course, this obstruction of justice question, whether or not the president obstructed justice in any of the actions.

Steve Bannon believes it's possible that the president might be implicated in the Mueller report because of that. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: I think you will see a lot of stuff in the Mueller report, I believe, that will deal with potential obstruction of justice. And I think it will come down to decisions that people think whether the president of the United States, as chief law enforcement officer, has the right to make those decisions or not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What do you think?

MURRAY: I mean, I think he's right, in that this will essentially boil down to a political question, not a legal question.

We know, under the Justice Department guidelines, they're not going to indict President Trump on anything, even if the Justice Department does believe he may have obstructed justice in some way.

And so then this basically falls into the laps of Capitol Hill and of Democrats, who are going to be looking ahead to 2020 and are going to have to weigh for themselves is there enough that we have learned out of this report that we want to try to move forward with an impeachment fight that it's almost sure to fail, or do you want to try to use this as ammunition and try to beat Donald Trump in 2020?

I can't imagine that Republicans are going to see enough in this report to suddenly get on board and think it's time to launch an attack against the president, because they haven't yet.

[16:35:00]

I think we're going see these two parties go to their opposite sides of the aisle and stake their ground out there.

TAPPER: All right, Sara and Laura, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

In our world lead today, in Bogota, Colombia, Vice President Mike Pence said it's time for action against embattled Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There can be no bystanders in Venezuela's struggle for freedom. Nicolas Maduro is a usurper with no legitimate claim to power. And Nicolas Maduro must go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Pence making those comments in Colombia as he met with the opposition leader, Juan Guaido, as Guaido supporters claim at least five protesters were killed in clashes with Maduro security forces over the weekend.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh joins me now live from Colombia.

And, Nick, Vice President Pence also said today that all options are on the table when it comes to removing the Maduro regime.

Nick Paton Walsh, we're having some problem. We're having some -- oh, there he is. Yes, let's bring up Nick.

Go ahead, Nick.

We don't have him.

OK, we're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we will bring you Nick.

The one thing former Democratic Leader Senator Harry Reid says the 2020 presidential candidates should not do if they want to win. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:40:40]

TAPPER: We're back with our world lead.

Vice President Pence in Colombia saying it's time for action against embattled Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro.

Let's go back to CNN's Nick Paton Walsh, who is in Bogota, Colombia.

And, Nick, Vice President Pence said today all options are on the table when it comes to removing the Maduro regime.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.

And that was one of the key takeaways here of Juan Guaido, the self- declared interim president, and Mike Pence, assuring each other that all options were on the table. That is sort of the sword of Damocles really hanging over this crisis, the possibility of some kind of military action.

Today, though, was really about international solidarity. Those allies oft Venezuelan opposition here in Colombia and around South America, with the vice president, showing a united front there. They just released a declaration. They're further supporting him. The question really is, though, what is going to be the next steps here? We saw the violence at the weekend that some cynically say was kind of predictable. If you send humanitarian aid at Venezuela's security forces, you are probably going to see clashes like that.

That's changed the temperature of this crisis. People are asking really what comes now, Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Nick Paton Walsh in Bogota, Colombia, thanks so much.

Let's turn to our 2020 lead now.

In just a few hours, Senator Bernie Sanders will face the voters in a CNN town hall, but with an increasingly progressive field of Democratic candidates, many of whom have adopted Sanders' ideas, what does Sanders need to say tonight to stand out from this pack?

CNN's Ryan Nobles takes a closer look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A week into his second run for president, Bernie Sanders has yet to hold a campaign rally. But he's already shaken up the 2020 race.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is going to be a historic campaign. And we are going to make history.

NOBLES: The Sanders campaign saying it raised nearly $6 million in the first 24 hours and as of Sunday received one million online pledges of support.

He's also taken steps to address concerns that arose from his 2016 bid. Sanders has made big changes to how his campaign will deal with sexual harassment claims. He's also added diversity to his campaign leadership, tapping Faiz Shakir as his campaign manager, the first Muslim American to serve in that role for a major U.S. presidential campaign.

SANDERS: We have been criticized, correctly so, for running a campaign that was too white and too male-oriented. And that is going to change.

NOBLES: Sanders also named Congressman Ro Khanna, former Ohio state Senator Nina Turner and San Juan, Puerto Rico, Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz as national co-chairs. He also sent work to surrogates via e-mail this week, asking that they treat campaign rivals respectfully and telling them -- quote -- "I want to be clear that I condemn bullying and harassment of any kind and in any space."

But ridding himself of the remnants of 2016 could be a challenge. The Sanders campaign today responding to reports the senator requested private jets over commercial travel as he crisscrossed the country on behalf of Hillary Clinton, this despite Sanders being a big supporter of legislation to curb fossil fuel emissions and climate change, including the Green New Deal.

A former Clinton staffer, Zac Petkanas, telling political -- quote -- "His royal majesty king Bernie Sanders would only deem to leave his plush D.C. office or his brand-new second home on the lake if he was flown around on a cushy private jet, like a billionaire master of the universe."

But Sanders is certainly not the only Democratic candidate to fly private, including Hillary Clinton. And his campaign said it was only used when the senator had to get from one location to the next quickly.

The criticism from the Clinton camp more than three years after the fact, and despite Sanders holding 39 rallies in 13 states on Clinton's behalf, demonstrates how the intraparty wounds from the 2016 results still exist, as Democrats jockey for position and support from an energized base.

QUESTION: What do you think of Bernie Sanders getting into the race?

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The more, the merrier.

(LAUGHTER)

NOBLES: Kamala Harris drawing big crowds in Iowa and continuing to find ways to draw distinctions from Sanders.

HARRIS: I am a Democrat. I'm a proud Democrat. I'm not a socialist.

NOBLES: While Elizabeth Warren is promising she won't hold fund- raisers or phone calls with wealthy donors during the primary.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We actually have to say, here's what we're fighting for. And we have to say it with real credibility.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES: And Sanders will hit the campaign trail for the first time this weekend with stops in Brooklyn, where he grew up, and Chicago, where he graduated college from -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Ryan Nobles, thanks so much.

Jamal, what does Senator Sanders need to say either tonight at the town hall or just, in general, to explain why he as a Progressive should be picked over all the other Progressives in the race, many of whom have adopted his agenda?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Senator Sanders has a tougher road this time in he had the last time. In fact, I would argue Democrats need to thank Senator Sanders for having opened up this lane of knowing that more progressive policies that were the passionate part of the Democratic Party is. The problem is much like how Facebook wasn't the social -- the first social media company of the -- of this era, you know, Bernie Sanders he might be like the Myspace or the Friendster of the Democratic Left where he has now shown him the way but somebody else would be the billion-dollar unicorn that actually takes advantage of it. Maybe an Elizabeth Warren or a Beto O'Rourke or a Kamala Harris who picks and chooses the Bernie Sanders policies but they put it in a more palatable package.

TAPPER: You really -- you really know how to hurt somebody.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN HOST: Bernie Sanders has been around forever. And now a lot of the progressive candidates are running on the platform that he largely created. So I think it's --

TAPPER: Yes, Medicare for all.

CARPENTER: -- yes, to actually explain what the green new deal is. I'm sorry, you don't need any more time to think about it. He says he has a plan coming out in two months or so. No, you can tell us now what it is because you've made everyone else run on it. Tell me what Medicare-for-all means and actually have the numbers to back it up. Tell me what it's going to do to the private insurance industry because this is your second run, buddy. Come with the facts.

TAPPER: And obviously, there's still a lot of bad blood between the Clinton people and the Sanders people as based by that Daniel Lippman scoop this morning about criticism over Sanders using a private jet. A former senior adviser to Obama, a former colleague of yours Dan Pfeiffer said "this is unfair and petty. It's pretty standard for a surrogate like Sanders to get a private plane so they can campaign more places more quickly."

He is course a big advocate for climate change. So what do you make of this all?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, that's exactly right. I mean, I don't know how anyone thinks that Hillary Clinton got to campaign stops she made four candidates over the course of several decades. She wasn't, of course, making this attack. It was people who had worked for her but that's very standard for people who are high-profile in-demand surrogates to do that.

There's always the conflict of course with climate change and presidents are criticized for that. But ultimately, when you're running a campaign all you're thinking about is getting your best men and women on the field. He was one of them as Robby Mook actually said in that story who ran the Clinton campaign.

TAPPER: Yes, but as you note, someone on the record quotes from former Clinton people taking some real shots. Linda, I want to ask you a question because there was something very interesting that Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts is doing. She's laying out this new rule for her campaign. No fundraisers, dinners, receptions, phone calls with wealthy donors. She explains it like this. For every time you see a presidential

candidate talking with voters at a town hall rally or local diner those same candidates are spending three or four or five times as long with wealthy donors on the phone in conference rooms at hedge fund offices or at family receptions and intimate dinners, all behind closed doors when I think the people -- when I thank the people giving to my campaign, it will not be based on the size of their donation.

That really is even though she doesn't name anybody, she is really claiming I'm authentic and a lot of these other people are kind of phony.

LINDA CHAVEZ, FORMER OFFICIAL, REAGAN ADMINISTRATION: Well, yes she, is but she also may find that she's not going to have enough money to stay in the race very long. I mean, look, more power to her. I think it is unfortunate that candidates have to spend so much time on the telephone and in the rooms that used to be smoke-filled, they're non- smoking rooms now, but you know glad-handing people who could write big checks. I think that's unfortunate.

But the fact is that unless she really is able to break out from the pack and I don't see her doing that. And she liked Sanders has the sort of socialist label hanging over her. And frankly, if the Democrats make this election about the economy, Donald Trump will be reelected.

SIMMONS: As our old friend Robert Gibbs used to say, T.V. stations in Iowa don't take credit cards. So at some point, she is going to have to raise some money.

PSAKI: Ultimately, I think what she did is a service and that there is too much big money in politics. However, I think there's a couple important things Linda touched on here. One, what does she have to lose? I know she has high dollar donors probably in Massachusetts but I'm not sure there's a big network of high dollar donors. She's going to lose as a result of this announcement.

Two, I've done three presidential campaigns. You don't spend four and five times as much time with high dollar donors. Usually, there's one event every couple of days. Is that too much? You can argue that, but that's not an accurate description on how she laid it down. So she's got to get on the map, she's got to mix it up. I don't think she saw herself as running neck-and-neck with Amy Klobuchar and the polls in the primary and that's exactly where she is right now.

TAPPER: And let me ask you this, because one of the big criticisms and why there's still this ugly, ugly feelings between the Clinton people in the Bernie people is the Clinton people feel that the Bernie people were purer than now and that he is a candidate made her out to be corrupt. And look, he was he was citing facts speeches to Goldman, etcetera.

[16:50:04] CARPENTER: Sure.

TAPPER: But that and that never -- she was never able to shake that image. Is Elizabeth Warren, does she run the risk here of doing the same thing to Kamala Harris and Sherrod Brown and others who are going to sit down and meet with wealthy people and talk on the phone with them to get money to run for president?

CARPENTER: Yes, I think the biggest thing that Democrats want to do right now and you can speak to this is beat Donald Trump. And if it Elizabeth Warren is out there saying Donald Trump is the biggest existential threat to this country but I can't take money from a wealthy donor to beat him, there's some dissonance there and that creates dissonance within the whole Democratic Party. I think it's self-defeating nonsense. But if that's the road that she wants to go on good luck.

TAPPER: Jen, I want to ask you, CNN's Dana Bash sat down with former Democratic senator and a majority reader Leader Harry Reid. He had some advice for Democrats ahead of 2020. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRY REID (D), FORMER SENATOR, NEVADA: The candidates running need not to talk about how bad President Trump is. They just need to talk about what's good for the country. Everyone knows even those people that support him knows what problems he has.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Do you agree?

PSAKI: First of all, he has nine lives so I see that. But yes, and I've long believed this that it's not just about resisting, it's also about rebuilding and representing something different, what is the alternative to Trump. And I think the party is really going in that direction. If you watch a lot of the candidates, they are running their own campaigns. They are not talking about him every day. They're talking about policy issues.

I do agree with Amanda that the Democrats are boxing themselves in a little bit on things like Medicare for all. We'll see how they respond to the Elizabeth Warren pledge. That's the most interesting question to me. Are they going to feel pressured to pledge that as well? But hopefully, over time, they'll start to back away a little bit.

CHAVEZ: And by the way, Trump has already raised a lot more money that all of the others combined. And so, if they don't raise money, it's going to be a problem. And I don't agree. I think you do have to paint Donald Trump is an existential threat and I say that as a conservative because I think he is a threat and I don't think the Democrats can shy away from that and I don't think the economy is going to win it.

SIMMONS: Democrats need three things, courage to stand up for their values, the strength to take on Donald Trump, and the vision for the future.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. Be sure to tune in to CNN tonight for the Town Hall with presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent of Vermont. CNN's Wolf Blitzer will host the live event 8:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

Coming up, it's one of the most controversial Oscar wins in recent history, the outrage over Green Book? Why? Coming up next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we made it with respect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In our "POP CULTURE LEAD" today, Blackkklansman director Spike Lee predicted that if the Oscars went a certain way "black Twitter is going to be on fire" And it looks as though he was right. The backlash continues to roll in over the Oscars Best Picture winner green book. The story of an Italian- American New York City driver and an elite black musician traveling through the 1960s Jim Crow Deep South.

Many critics slammed the film for a dated and one-sided portrayal of race relations and for advancing the so-called white savior narrative. As CNN Stephanie Elam reports, the criticism comes as the Oscar winners were more diverse than in years past.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JULIA ROBERTS, ACTRESS: And the Oscar goes to Green Book.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Green Book taking Best Picture. Its mainstream approach to race relations clearly upsetting Director Spike Lee.

SPIKE LEE, DIRECTOR: Oh I thought it was caught sight of the garden the ref made a bad call.

ELAM: Based on real-life events, Green book is about Tony Lip, a white racist bouncer hired to drive Don Shirley a famed black pianist on a concert tour through the Deep South.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you foresee any issues in working for a black man?

ELAM: During their journey, the man's preconceived notions of the other soften and a friendship forms in a way critics say sanitizes the racial divide in the 60s.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Teaching the black person about blackness, teaching the black person about how to navigate through the Jim Crow South. All of those things black people believe are problematic.

ELAM: Compounding emotions Civil Rights icon John Lewis introduced the film at the Oscars.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: On nation better scars at that time as do I.

ELAM: For many, it furthers so-called white savior movies like Driving Miss Daisy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning Miss Daisy!

ELAM: Which won Best Picture the Year Spike Lee was snubbed for Do The Right Thing.

LEE: I'm snake-bit. I mean every time someone is driving some by, I lose.

ELAM: Also at issue, the title. The Green Book was a crucial travel tool for black people in the south. It listed the only places where blacks could stay safely. Critics say it didn't get the proper treatment.

TURNER: What happened to the person who developed and wrote the Green Book? Why did we never hear anything about him, any accolades, any thank-yous, nothing? Nick Vallelonga, the real-life son of Tony lip co-wrote the script. He deflects criticism that Shirley's family wasn't consulted saying Don Shirley told him not to.

NICK VALLELONGA, CO-AUTHOR, GREEN BOOK: He told me if you're going to tell the story, you tell it from your father, me, no one else, don't speak to anyone else. That's how you have to make it, and also he told me don't make it until after I pass away.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ELM: But here's the deal with this movie, Jake, is that there were a lot of people who had no problem with this movie because of its feel- good ending it was a box-office hit. And I also think for some of the voters in the Academy, they were there for Mahershala and Viggo and loved their chemistry together and so they were able to push aside all those problems because of those two.

TAPPER: All right, Stephanie Elam, great report. Thank you so much. I appreciate it. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much for watching.